101 students on senior class trip kicked off AirTran flight

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The dispute surrounding a student vacation flight from New York to Atlanta is getting uglier.

One hundred one students and eight chaperones were kicked off an early morning AirTran flight before its scheduled departure Monday. The controversy now pits the airline against an Orthodox Jewish high school.

“We take this matter seriously and have started our own investigation,” said a statement released Tuesday by Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director of the Yeshiva of Flatbush school. “Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified.”

From the airline’s perspective, it sounds like a large-scale version of the parental “don’t-make-me-turn-this-car-around” scenario.

Southwest, which owns AirTran, said the group of “non-compliant passengers” would not stay seated, and some were using their mobile devices after being asked not to. When the students failed to comply with requests from the flight crew, including the captain, they were asked to leave the plane, delaying the AirTran flight for 45 minutes, said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.

Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran in a deal announced three years ago.

Students and chaperones from the Brooklyn-based school said the flight crew overreacted to the teenagers who were looking forward to visiting Six Flags and rafting, among other activities.

“It blew out of proportion. It was a mountain out of a molehill,” said teacher Marian Wielgus, one of the chaperones.

According to Wielgus, some students may have had to be told twice to sit down or turn off their phones, but everyone listened.

“They certainly did not do what the stewardess was claiming they did,” she said. “That’s what was so bizarre.”

Wielgus said the flight attendants were “nasty,” “overreacting” and “created an incident when there didn’t have to be one.”

According to Southwest Airlines, the group violated safety regulations.

Wielgus said she would understand if individual students who were not complying had been asked to leave, but she objected to the collective punishment.

Wielgus said a “small group” of students in the back of the aircraft were chatty, but that did not warrant the flight crew to force an entire group of 109 people off the plane.

“It was so ugly,” she said.

Rabbi Joseph Beyda, another chaperone, said none of the students on the plane was particularly loud or disruptive. And when he saw that the flight attendant was flustered and had asked students to leave, he asked which kids were causing issues and offered to help, but she refused.

“They just simply said ‘get off the plane,'” Beyda said.

Beyda’s Twitter account included a joking photo of the class labeled “whitewater rafting in Milwaukee!!” It’s not clear when it was taken, but some of the students did have a layover in Milwaukee after they were put on other flights.

Student Jonathan Zehavi said he felt they were targeted because they are an identifiably Jewish group.

“They treated us like we were terrorists; I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m not someone to make these kinds of statements,” Zehavi said. “I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn’t have dared to kick them off.”

Zehavi said Southwest Airlines is attempting to cover up an unprofessional and rash decision by saying their group was not cooperating with the crew, when in fact they were, he said.

“It was 4 o’clock in the morning. The last thing any of us wanted to do was get up and make a mess,” Zehavi said.

But business passenger Brad Rinschler, who takes the commuter flight three times a month, said he saw “definitely less than eight” chaperones with the students. He saw only two adults walk off the plane with the kids. And the chaperones sat in the front of the plane, while the noisy students sat in the back. Rinschler sat in business class, he said.

He said about 10 of the more than 100 students didn’t listen to the flight crew’s instructions and were noisy, swapping seats to sit beside friends and using their cell phones.

“They were laughing at them and ignoring them,” Rinschler said of the 10 students.

The crew gave the students “multiple chances” to heed preflight instructions.

“They pilot warned them. They did not comply. They thought it was a joke. You know, it wasn’t a joke,” Rinschler said.

“I’ve never seen this,” he added. “It’s a commuter flight. There’s no families on it.”

Rinschler didn’t witness any anti-Semitic events. “Absolutely not,” he said. “There was not one ethnic slur from anyone on the flight crew or anyone who was inconvenienced for two hours.

“If they were adults, they wouldn’t have even had that many chances. That’s the bottom line,” Rinschler said.

One chaperone pleaded with the pilot and security for another chance.

“One chaperone — not two, not eight — one talked to them asking for a second chance. The pilot said, ‘You had a second chance, you had a third chance. There’s other people; we have to go. It’s not stopping,’ ” Rinschler said.

Another student in the group, Michael Mamiye, said he was one of the first to be kicked off the plane. He said a flight attendant did not give him a chance to turn off his cell phone before asking him to “get off the plane.”

The same flight attendant then told the captain that the students were “making trouble” and not turning off their phones, he added. The captain didn’t come out of the cockpit until the last second when he asked the group to leave, Mamiye said.

According to Mamiye, he and his classmates were quiet and were sitting down as they were told. And when they were asked to leave, they left in a respectful and orderly fashion.

“We were more behaved than kids should be,” he said.

Both Beyda and Mamiye said the airline’s customer service did its best to accommodate the group by getting them on the next available flights. But the group had to be split up and they were in transit for a total of 12 hours, Mamiye said.

As the day went on, students and staff talked about their experiences on Twitter. Some of their tweets are posted here.


If you can’t see the tweets, you can view them on Storify. What do you think? Share your views in the comments area below.


TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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  • MrCrabs

    Some people just don't get it. We've known for years what the expectations of airline passengers are. Whether you believe it or Mythbusters, electronics are supposed to be turned off. Passengers are supposed to be in their assigned seats. After take off, the Captain or flight attendants may allow movement; including seat switching. If a bunch of adolescents from a privileged community can't comply with some simple request, too bad. There are consequences whether you like it or not. The flight crew is held responsible for injuries and deaths. They are given the authority to take any action necessary to ensure the safety of their passengers; even ones who don't think they have to comply. With a group of 100 it is not possible for absolutely all of them to hear the others or see what the others are doing. Some may have complied without dragging their feet and others may have been openly defiant. Once the call was made, it was time to go.

  • Shelly Marasco

    I agree. Also, with all those cell phones. not one student had the presence of mind to video this said injustice..? The airline has last say in all of this. and the right to refuse service to anyone. Behave when you are on an airliner, grow up. and to pull the race card? ridiculous, bad behavior is bad behavior.

  • Randy

    No. It's never the fault of the passengers. Their spokesperson said they were so well behaved. Yeah, right, the airline just threw them off at a whim. Please! Take responsibility for bad behavior, and quit trying to blame everyone else for your lack of it!

  • chuck

    my god, the race card crap again. un rully brats too bad grow up little punks most kids do not have the money to fly off and have fun on the river. should be more great full you little punks, good i would not have put them on another plane.

  • terrie

    please do not make this about the Jews. I read the article and I believe it would apply to any and all. I love and support Israel and if biased at all I would favor the Jews. just won't do it this time. agree with above commenters.

    • John

      ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! This religious group loves to play the race card when they don’t get their own way. They see no need to adhere to any sense of normal social behavior because it’s not the “Jewish way”. They (the young men) have little or NO respect for any female what so ever. This is the real reason they got themselves thrown off the plane. When they learn to be respectful then the rest of the world will respect them.

  • Danny

    I know when I flew to a recent graduation, I was also on a flight with only a small class of about 30 students and a couple of adult chaperones that did absolutely nothing to assist in managing the soon to be freshmen. When the kids boarded the plane they just sat anywhere they wanted without regard to seat assignment for other passengers, again with no support from the adult supervision. Once we were airborne the students never stayed seated as they made multiple trips to the bathroom for a couple hour flight. I could only imagine what the flight would have been like for the 101 students……..good job for the airlines not to put up with their crappy behavior. The response from the chaperones are usually consistent with not taking appropriate actions to correct their behavior. They were likely teachers that wanted to be their friend instead of the adult figurehead.

  • Guester1

    Were these people behaving self-righteous and that they owe no one an explanation? It sure seems that way from this unruly gang of 101 students

  • Neutral

    “I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn’t have dared to kick them off.”

    This should not be about religion. Did the airline make it as such? If these were 101 Moslem or other religion, would they and should they have been given the same treatment?

  • Joymar

    I am tired of people saying everything is about race, religion, etc. Grow up and take responsibility for your actions regardless of what color you are or where you pray,

  • Bill Kinne

    You would think that a group of angels such as these could have flown on their own wings rather than use an airline.

  • Linda

    This is sooo sad that some people can embrace bad behaviour if I was on that aircraft i would have been pissed. How many times are we asked to turn our cell phones off? The announcements are made about 3-5 times before take off. I find it heard to believe that the inflight crew are at fault, the group leader needs to take responsibility for her students actions, their lucky they didn't have to be asked to compassiate the passengers but guess southwest had to.

  • debbie s

    good for the airlines they are considered adults and should act like it . be accountable for your actions or get kicked off the plane. i hate people that use the race card you are all disgusting

  • retiredinaz1

    The studens and the adults watching them were all in the wrong…if told to stay seated…that is what is to be done! If the passengers are asked to put away their mobile devices…that is what is to be done! Good for the airlines! I back them all the way with this one!

  • Todd Pardee

    Why were they assigned another flight when they have already been deemed not fit for flight? You’d see a lot less rudeness on flights if the airline REALLY refused service and did not reassign flights.
    Like, here’s your refund, go fly with somebody else.
    I recall when people used to put on their Sunday best when they had the opportunity to utilize air travel.

  • Teacher who cares

    Coincidentally, I was on a flight from NYC to LA last summer with a group of students from this same school. They were headed to summer camps at campuses in California and were not chaperoned. They acted the EXACT way as described, changing seats willy nilly, refusing to turn off cell phones, being loud and disruptive….and, to make it worse, the mess of trash and spilled food they left behind for others to clean up was a disgrace. I hope the adults around them stop making excuses for their rude behavior and, instead, engage in some character education and modification around this event.

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